The Pinelands Commission played a key role in helping to establish the Pine Barrens Byway, a state- and federally-designated byway that traverses 130 miles of existing roadways in the southern portion of the Pinelands.
Beginning in 2001, the Commission worked with 16 municipalities and five counties to develop the byway. The impetus for the byway designation was the Pinelands Rural Economic Development Program, which examined economic conditions in several Pinelands towns and recommended measures to stimulate environmentally-suitable economic growth through various planning initiatives, incentives, public improvements, and redevelopment. One suggestion was for a New Jersey and National Scenic Byway that would bring widespread awareness of, and interest in, the natural assets of the Pinelands. The Commission set up an organizing committee of municipal representatives to oversee the nomination process. An inventory of the many natural and cultural attractions along the byway was also prepared and all municipalities and counties through which the byway passes adopted resolutions supporting its designation. On behalf of the organizing committee, Commission staff prepared a nomination document that was formally submitted to the State Byway Committee in early 2005. Later that same year, the Pine Barrens Byway, formerly known as the Southern Pinelands Natural Heritage Trail, was designated as an official New Jersey State Scenic Byway. This designation enables the byway sponsors to apply for program-affiliated grants and provides access to a variety of promotional and marketing opportunities, including development of visitor centers, wayside exhibits, and self-guided tours.
The byway travels along existing roadways through Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean Counties, including portions of 16 municipalities. It meanders through areas of striking natural beauty and rich historic heritage. With a focus on maritime portions of the Pinelands, the route takes particular advantage of the scenic qualities and historic hamlets of the Mullica, Maurice and Tuckahoe River Corridors. The full route can be viewed on the Pine Barrens Byway map.
Following the State designation, the Commission was awarded a Federal grant to continue the process to obtain National Scenic Byway designation. The Commission used the funds to hire a consulting team that issued a comprehensive Corridor Management Plan for the Byway in 2009. The Plan sets forth a vision statement and includes specific recommendations and measures that can be undertaken to accomplish a series of Byway goals. For example, the Plan urges the identification and prioritization of conservation lands for acquisition and the use of smart growth policies and strategies. Additionally, the Plan calls for increasing local and visitor awareness and appreciation of the Pinelands' fragile environment. It also recommends the implementation of numerous measures aimed at improving the visitor experience. Examples include the creation of better signage, branding and marketing to increase tourism and enhancing access to appropriate resources. The Commission officially endorsed the Plan in 2009, and it was then formally approved by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Once formal designation as a New Jersey Scenic Byway was achieved, a byway task force comprising municipal and county representatives and private citizens was formed to begin formation of a permanent operating body for the byway that would implement the recommendations in the corridor management plan. The task force also developed a website for the byway, and it has been visited more than 8,000 times. Commission staff played a vital role in the task force and drafted an organizational structure for a managing entity to be known as the Pine Barrens Byway Association, which came into being in 2010. The Association includes an oversight board, which has final decision-making powers and consists of representatives from all of the counties and municipalities along the byway, and an executive committee, whose five members are appointed by the counties.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation provided significant support for this effort by developing signage that will help visitors identify the byway and navigate their way through it. The Pine Barrens Byway is one of seven such byways formally designated by the state, and the Department of Transportation has designed signage that ties them together through the use similar color schemes, typefaces and other visual elements embedded in the "personalized" logos for each byway. Installation of the signage along the Pine Barrens Byway is scheduled to begin in 2015.